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Ethnography, materiality, and the principle of symmetry: problematising anthropocentrism and interactionism in the ethnography of education

Journal article
Authors J. Tummons
Dennis Beach
Published in Ethnography and Education
ISSN 1745-7823
Publication year 2019
Published at Department of Education and Special Education
Language en
Subject categories Pedagogy


In this article we draw on actor-network theory (ANT) in order to challenge the methodological and empirical orthodoxies of anthropocentrism and interactionism that have long informed dominant discourses of ethnographic work. We use ANT to open new possibilities for understanding education as emergent in relational fields where non-human forces are as equally necessary as and possess an agency equivalent to, human forces: the principle of symmetry. We argue that this generates important conceptual as well as political possibilities in constituting different possible outcomes in the accomplishment of ethnographies of education. We draw attention to the problematic of the decentring of the human subject and the critical investigation of the interface between people and objects that frame this special issue, and also propose a methodological response framed by a commitment to empirical research through ethnography as well as a theoretical response framed by relational materialism, operationalised here through recourse to ANT.

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